Train ride increases knowledge for college students and railroad docents

(06-25-2010)

Article by Aishaa Curtis Mitchell

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Photo by Michael Alder

Adams State College students, expecting another day of "hard work" in the field, were pleasantly surprised when Dr. Rob Benson, associate professor of earth science, drove up to the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad Station in Antonito, Colorado. Gayle Martinez, Cumbres and Toltec Railroad marketing director, arranged for complimentary tickets for Benson and his students.

Senior geology student and Porter Scholar Kayla Lanoue said it was the "best field trip ever."

According to Benson, the ride is a good way for the students to experience the historic railroad path. In exchange for the free ride, the students and Benson imparted their geologic knowledge to passengers and railroad docents.

"The trip was really educational and I liked being quizzed by the docents who don't normally deal with geology," said Lanoue. She plans on a career with the US Forest Service.

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Photo by Michael Alder

Benson is a member of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad advisory committee. He said the train ride provides a unique perspective for the geology students. "From a geologic time point-of-view, about 1.5 billion years is crossed by the train route, even though most of the geology is pretty young, like less than 25 million years."

The Cumbres and Toltec Railroad is considered a living museum and is on the National History Register. Gayle Martinez, Cumbres and Toltec Railroad marketing director, said: "Having the geology students on board to point out the unique features along our 64 mile route, speaks to our unique history-and scenery--while travelling on board a 1930 locomotive in the 21st century."

In the geology field camp class, students learn various techniques including mapping and experiencing geology hands-on. "The class has elements of boot camp and residency," jokes Benson. A typical day starts at 6:30 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m. Sarah Turner, an Adams State senior geology major, said she was "ecstatic" to ride the train. "This was better than looking at a text book." Her career plans include joining the National Parks Service or the US Geological Society.